What’s that strong burning rubber smell while idling?

I was idling my 2008 Subaru Outback with the A/C on for about 3 minutes. I was running my multiple bags of laundry into the laundromat while my daughter was in the car and didn’t want her to overheat. There was a strong smell of burning rubber - it reminded me exactly of when you burn rubber accelerating really fast from a stop, except very strong. My car has about 157,000 miles on it. I checked the belts while waiting for my laundry and they all looked good (the serpentine belt was replaced about a year ago anyways). Anyone know what it could be? Like many people, I’m in a financially tight situation and I just got a job working in a city that’s 20 min away from where I live so it’s not exactly the best time to have it be in the shop. Is it something I need to be worried about and take it in ASAP? Is it possibly an easy and not costly fix? Any ideas would be appreciated! Thank you!

There is no one thing it could be. Follow your nose. Is it coming from the exhaust pipe? From under the car? From the engine compartment? From inside the car?

Post back with more details and we’ll try and help.

Offhand I’d suspect oil is leaking onto a hot exhaust. Have you checked the oil lately? Is it low?


First thing I would check is for oil leaking from the right front from the head gasket and hitting the hot exhaust pipe. That’s a common failure for these engines.


When I was looking under the hood, I did check the oil. Still full. I had an oil change a couple months ago. It’s due for one in about 1,000 miles.

The air conditioner compressor and or related pulleys and belts are suspects. If the compressor begins to seize or a pulley drags or a belt slips then running the A/C and/or windshield defroster/defogger can cause the burning belt belt smell.

With the engine OFF, and knowing that parts can be very hot, one can inspect the belt for tension, wear/glazing, and look for black dust on pulleys and see if there’s a “smoking gun” in this mystery.

Also, has the A/C been working normally?
:palm_tree: :sunglasses: :palm_tree:

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Leaving a 3 year old in a running car while running laundry in and out of a laundromat is a spectacularly bad Idea. What if an oportunistic car theif jumps in and take off.

I hope it is oil dripping from a valve cover gasket because if it is the typical Subaru head gasket problem, that is expensive. I don’t know how these cars have such a reputation for reliability.

most likely it’s the DOJ (double offset joint) boot leaking grease onto the cat. It is very common due to the fact that as the cat is located above the rubber boot causing it to split open. Providing it’s a small tear, (not out of grease/road salt/dirt/other debris) it can be replaced.

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Yes. However, a couple years ago it was somehow “overcharging” which caused it to not work, or only work intermittently. They found out it was overcharged when I paid for a flush and recharge (I think that’s what they did).

While I appreciate your concern and agree with you, I think her risk of running into the parking lot and being hit by a car was higher while trying to get the laundry out of my car. Plus, I was right at the door and just placed them inside.
Thank you for your reply. Hopefully that is only the issue

That would be so frustrating considering I just replaced my Axle on the driver side, and both axles were already replaced 2 or 3 years ago before that.

I’m not entirely sure where the smell is coming from. When I checked the oil (Which was full) and belts, it didn’t seem like it was coming from engine area, but the smell wasn’t too strong near the tail either. I thought maybe it was just the location I was at and not coming from my car at all. I almost want to say directly under the car. When I drove it back to my house I didn’t smell it strong anymore, just lingering from the burning smell earlier.
I guess my question should be what would be the hint that this is dire and to get it in ASAP? Obviously, I don’t want the car to explode on me or anything crazy. Do you think I have time to drive to work tomorrow and then get it in to a mechanic to take a look?

I agree, the boots should last longer, if you can get it up on a lift ( with the car in neutral) have someone spin the tires and check the boots.

| emily_156249
May 26 |

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That would be so frustrating considering I just replaced my Axle on the driver side, and both axles were already replaced 2 or 3 years ago before that.

I would suggest you drove over a something plastic or rubber that stuck to your hot exhaust. The exhaust burned it off, smelling awful, and only residual is left. Since it has basically gone away, just keep an eye (nose) on it. If it comes back take it to your local independent auto repair shop for a look-see.

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I would be checking under hood fluids very frequently until the odor issue is resolved, namely engine oil and coolant.

Actually, if I drove one of these old Subarus, I’d be doing that already.
:palm_tree: :sunglasses: :palm_tree:

Thank you all for your replies! I’m very grateful!

I was checking after work with the engine in idle. I turned my wheels all the way to the left and right to try and take a peek at the CV boots. I didn’t notice any grease or see they were broken (at least closure to the engine). I thought maybe I started to smell something when I turned the wheels all the way to the left. But I haven’t smelled anything driving to work nor driving back from. I’ll keep an eye on it and see if I can take it into a mechanic this weekend just to ease my mind.

I hope it turns out to be just something small, if anything at all :smiley:

My old subie-she’ll be 25 this November-her build date. I keep an eye on the PS fluid more than the oil-needs a new rack and pump, among many other things :money_mouth_face: